Custom-built Champ Cars and Indy Cars
by Mark Cipolloni

 August 4, 2005

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Justin Wilson CDW Champ Car

Sebastien Bourdais' 2005 Centrix Indy Car

Paul Tracy's 7-11 Indy 500 car

Paul Tracy's Mobil 1 Penske

Alex Zanardi's "last 13 laps" Champ Car

AutoRacing1.com paid a visit to Chapparrel's Diecast in New Jersey recently to interview Gary Pino, the man behind some of the best diecast Champ Car models money can buy.  Over the years Chapparrel's has been contracted to build custom diecast Champ Cars and Indy Cars for some of the biggest players in the sport.

MARK CIPOLLONI: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today Gary.   First off, how did you get into making Champ Car diecasts? And why do you do this?

GARY PINO:  I started collecting 1/43 diecast cars when my friend got me into it in the early '90s. My main problem was being a Paul Tracy fan, I was pissed off my cars all said PENSKE instead of Marlboro, so I decided to fix this issue.

MARK CIPOLLONI: So basically you started doing just basic decal conversions in the beginning?

GARY PINO: Yeah, pretty much. I did decal work for a few years until I was asked by a friend in Canada to make a 1992 Mobil 1 Tracy first ride in then CART. I was reluctant to strip and repaint the car.  I got through it and really got a rush after it was done and seen by PT himself.

MARK CIPOLLONI: What was your motivation to take this as far as you have now 10 years later?

GARY PINO: Look at what is available to Formula 1 and NASCAR fans from Speedgear now. Champ Car which is now on the rise was really passed over for years and the fans were getting disgusted with the lack of diecasts in 1/18th scale. I decided to have Vic Varella make a small website and do some cool work on the current grids. Then like wildfire, things just took off. I have done cars for so many drivers, and team members, motorsport marshals, and was privileged to meet some of the most diehard Champ Car fans around the world in this endeavor.

MARK CIPOLLONI:  Basically tell us what separates you from other guys who do this hobby?

GARY PINO: Working in a machine shop since 1986, I have been working with metal and doing fabrications for years before I even got into this. Now with the complicated Lola chassis Champ Car has, it takes an ample amount of time to duplicate them. I took painting lessons from professional detailers, and have been blessed with the best equipment and supplies from being in the auto business my whole life. PPG has anchored us for 2 solid years now as our sole paint supplier, and it's tough to beat a PPG detailed diecast.

MARK CIPOLLONI:  Who does your artwork for each Champ Car?

GARY PINO: I have had the luxury of having a handful of great artisans over the last few years laying these complicated paint schemes out for me. I worked with John Bartos for a few years and we did a lot of awesome projects together. Things got real insane so now we are just good friends. I have an army of talented guys who print the best decals in the world. Earl Ma “The Unions”, Indycals, Marksman, Chris Jerina to name a few are talented and make my job easier.

MARK CIPOLLONI:  How does this whole process work, and how long does it take?

GARY PINO: Basically to have a custom car done you need to contact a diecast store like Toronto Motorsports or Speedgear, and get a chassis. Basically Toronto Motorsports has the widest range of models and they cover pretty much everything. Then it would be mailed to me and I would get artwork ready so when PPG is done with the paint match we are ready to roll. It takes a lot longer than I wish it really would. I do this alone and have to watch my 2 boys all day so it’s difficult to get cars out as quick as I would like. I would rather make someone wait longer than sacrifice perfection and rush to get a model out. I have set a standard now of what these hand-builts should look like and will never sacrifice it. When this happens, I will quit. Champ Car fans deserve the best of whatever they want so when I am called upon, I don’t like to disappoint.

MARK CIPOLLONI:  What is your best project?

GARY PINO:  My most personal project was a recent one which really touched me and made me realize why I do this. A personal friend of Alex Zanardi contacted me about doing the 13 laps at EuroSpeedway Lausitz comeback car for Alex Zanardi, and I really took this project seriously. I was lucky to get blueprints of the special cockpit made for Alex sent to me and I actually replicated everything on this car I possibly could. The car is just sweet and probably will never be replicated the way we did this. Steve Tarrant (motorsport marshal) whom contacted me, who also is disabled, is close to Zanardi because they both have similar injuries from racing so the whole story is a heartfelt one. Honestly, I could have quit the day after I did this and my quest may have been complete!

That whole month of fabrication was just awesome. I had guys I didn’t even know e-mailing me pictures of the car helping out. It was quite a team effort and it shows how again the resolve Champ Car fans really have. I have done cars for dozens of drivers since 2001, but the Zanardi car stands alone, to me anyway.

We have been fortunate to have fans who love what we do. Gatorz sunglasses whom I personally back makes the best shades on the planet and I am proud to be associated with them. To make successful strides you need outstanding sponsors. I am a big sunglasses freak, and honestly the best I have worn are the Gatorz (American Chopper design) series. I am also proud to personally back AutoRacing1.com because I like what they stand for. They do a professional job of journalism, and for race fans on the go, who has time to read magazines.

In the future I plan on providing fans current grids of Champ Car stars so anyone can have a car of their favorite driver and most of all special event cars. Believe it or not a lot of fans want that Toronto Tracy with half of a wing. I love doing things like that. Check out the feedback on our website http://www.chapparrelsdiecast.com/     I take a lot of pride in it so I will always be making a first rate diecasts for as long as I can.

Vic Varella and I started the petition to save the Grand Prix of Long Beach for Champ Car and I feel what we did showed a lot of support for our desire to keep Champ Cars marquee event alive and well. I have and always will support the CCWS because I feel it’s the hardest form of racing in the world. You have to be multitalented to drive on streets, road courses, short ovals, and superspeedways. Champ Car drivers have to be in top condition to drive these cars and I feel deserve to be called the best core of drivers the world over. Andretti, Mears, Foyt and Rahal to name a few, all have major career ties to Champ Car. Some of the greatest drivers ever drove in the greatest series in the world to be called the best. That series is Champ Car, CART, etc.

Our series was down, but Champ Car has turned around the entire program in two years. I have never left them when they were down, and never will. I think cracking the million mark in attendance is awesome for a series that most IRL fans said was dead. The last 2 events Champ Car averaged 50,000 fans on Fridays! Not even NASCAR can do that, so we are on the right track for sure.

MARK CIPOLLONI:   I'm sure you have come into contact with many people inside and outside the sport.  What's your opinion on the proposal to merge with the IRL that was floated for months.

GARY PINO:  At this point, it would be good for the entire open wheel community. The pieces are in place with the new chassis and engine package in 2007, but Tony George would want too much and I doubt if Champ Cars new brain trust (who have schooled George) the last few years in courts and promotion would hand over a product that may well be better than F1 in a few years.

Look what George has done to open wheel racing since 1995!   I think he is a cancer to the sport and maybe Champ Car is better off without him.  Besides in 24 months the IRL’s engine package is bleak. Think about this.  He has the Andretti, Penske, Foyt, etc. names in his series and they still are on life support. It says a lot about George and the way he does things. Right now I kind of like the way things are. I predict some guys over there jump the fence and come back to Champ Car. If you’re a team owner or driver, how can you be sure about your future when you see your engines walking out the door? Drivers today want job security, and it’s really not there right now for them.

There are a lot of good things on the horizon for Champ Car fans here at Chapparrel's so stay tuned.

MARK CIPOLLONI:  Gary, your work is perhaps the best we have seen.  Thanks for taking time from your busy schedule to talk to us.

GARY PINO:  My pleasure, and thanks for all you do for Champ Car and racing in general.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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